The 4 Weeks Series: #2 – Weird Arequipa/Peru

I am usually not prone to much cultural shock because I have been exposed to lots of different cultures. More specifically, Arequipa is quite similar to Cebu, Philippines in a way that everything is like a Lego – everything is crazy and they are not the most developed countries but somehow everything works together. However, the weird stuff in each country still cracks me up. It’s the stuff that makes you go “????????????” There are no appropriate words.

Below are some of the weird stuff I’ve encountered. I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

  • People don’t take coffee with milk.
  • Mayonnaise and mustard comes in a packet.
  • People have soda (“gaseosa”) with every meal. The surely radioactive, fluorescent Inca Kola was born in Peru. Like France, if you order water at a restaurant they ask you want it with our without carbonation.
  • Tipping not required. Not “weird” per se or specific to Peru but it feels freakishly weird.
  • Most people here wear pants or jeans. Rarely do you see men wearing shorts unless they are teens or tourists. This is maddening only because Arequipa can get freakishly hot during the day. I asked some people about this and it seems like it’s because it’s a historically conservative place and the weather can change suddenly (goes from hot to chilly).
  • Non-stray dogs (aka dogs privately owned by people) are not trained. Drives me into near-apoplectic rage.
  • Some people do eat empanadas on the street – just like some French people eat baguette on the street.
  • Tuna cans are like diamonds (cheapest one I found today was US$2.11).

Photographic Exhibits:

Rage face notebook. The thing that makes this weird is that it belonged to a SUPER shy and quiet Peruvian girl at the school and I just…people buy stuff here not knowing what it says on the item.
NBD just some unidentified meat drying on our laundry drying lines
Arequipa Fashion Week
Kill or Dead
I felt so bad for this guy. And then I took a picture.
An ingenious makeshift paper towel holder
Banana Lady

Below are some bookstore finds.

As I uploaded and wrote the caption for this picture, there were girls behind me who surely saw it. Readers, this is how much I am dedicated to you.
This was carefully wrapped in plastic


I used a bathroom at the big local market. I had to pay and they gave me a ticket and some tissue paper.
Stamps. Fried guinea pig at the bottom.

As I write this I am preparing to head off to Cusco, home to Machu Picchu, on Friday. I had some full-on panic mode this week because I had no idea what I was going to do but now I THINK I have SOME kind of a plan.

Eeesh…haven’t even gone through half of my 4 Weeks Series. Eups. So it goes.

The 4 Weeks Series: #1 – Homesickness & Loneliness

I graduated from the course today, will move out of the apartment tomorrow, and stay at a hostel for about a week. I plan to travel a bit before deciding on a city to teach in. It has not sunk in yet that I am moving “on”, what ever the “on” signifies.

Because so many things have happened in the past four weeks, I thought it would be best to do a short series of major experiences, realizations, and ponderings I encountered during that specific period of time. I know this first one is kind of a downer but it’s an important one. Some (tentative) upcoming posts in the series include the graduation itself, thoughts on teaching, weird stuff in Arequipa/Peru, social interactions/exploring, and Things I Have Learned. I hope I can get them out in a reasonable amount of time.

Without further adieu – thoughts on homesickness and loneliness. PARTY TIME!!

I think it’s important to separate homesickness and loneliness. The two are related but also vastly different. By my definition, when you are homesick you have a general idea about what you are missing – significant other, parents, friends, pets, family, neighborhood, general comfort and familiarity of home. Loneliness on the other hand is severely isolating because it is a vacuum of nothingness and uncertainty

Homesickness is out of my control but in a more controlled environment. There is something or someone at the end of the Homesickness Line (like a Metro line) which creates a sense of tangibility. You know what is back home. You know it’s there. You just can’t have it, but at least whatever you are missing exists.

There’s no such assurance with loneliness. You feel completely alone on this planet that has 7 billion people. There is no end in sight with loneliness – that’s why it’s so crippling. You don’t know why. You don’t know what. You don’t know how. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it for some reason or other.

The last characteristic of loneliness is that it can hit you even if you live with a sense of purpose.

Memento from home

I have surprisingly not gotten homesick thanks largely due to technology. I email and Skype friends and family often and keep up with social media. That is not to say I haven’t had my moments but considering it was one of my biggest fears before leaving, it has not been bad at all.

Loneliness on the other hand has been extremely challenging to address. I am naturally not-so-outgoing and have a tendency to be sad more than happy (I’m working on that though!). It has been exacerbated by the fact that I lived with a British couple and a roommate who was in a relationship and had no issues whatsoever befriending people. When you are surrounded by people like that, the laws of human brain dictates that you are bound to feel left out (source: my vast background in neuroscience). They would be laughing and interacting while I…well, I wasn’t.

I can see how having a stable relationship with your significant other would help in these situations. You have a guarantee every single day that you will have someone to talk to, someone who cares about you. That is significant. Sure, I have great friends and family and I talk to them often but it’s different. That’s why we don’t marry our family or platonic friends. We need meaningful human interactions. Anyway, I digress.

I tried my best to tame the beast. You have to remember that the point of loneliness, as I mentioned above, is that it’s beyond writing or talking to your friends and family. That ship has long sailed. The best solutions were usually exercising, going for a walk, and/or taking pictures. Least appealing option was to just ride it out.

It also helped to talk to people. I don’t mean the obvious roommates or classmates but cashiers, janitors, security guards, taxi drivers, et cetera. Yeah, I realize I was pretty desperate when I did that, but it helped. It’s not the deep connection that drives and makes us thrive, but when you feel like there’s nobody in this world any bit of interaction was a lifesaver.

I also asked myself the “w” questions. Why am I feeling lonely? What happened or did not happen that lead to this feeling? How can it be resolved or alleviated? It’s important to identify the source of problems.

A picture I took from one of my walks when I felt especially alone
A picture I took from one of my walks when I felt especially alone

I am not sure which is worse: feeling alone when I’m with a group of people or feeling alone when I am alone. I think the former is worse for I have to pretend that I’m okay. It’s usually not their fault, though.

I don’t know how to wrap up this post. In the four weeks I have felt alone more times than I would care to count. As I explained, I developed some go-to techniques I perform when the loneliness hits. I think it’s also in my inherent personality that makes me feel so lonely. Anyway, the point is that it’s okay to feel lonely but you can’t wallow in it. Face it headfirst. Sorry it’s such a lame wrap-up – I wish I was Ian McEwan – he explains emotions so well.

I was unsure about keeping a blog but I am glad I have it because it helps with the “meaningful human interaction” aspect.

A more upbeat post next time.

Do Now, Regret Later

I listened to the devil on my shoulder, put off the lesson planning and grammar exam preparation for tomorrow, and accompanied my roommates to Characato/Yarabamba for a 10km (6.21 mi) local running club race.

One of my British roommates, Dan, is an avid runner and runs every single day with Club Colca, the local running club. Since my other roommate, Emily, is also a runner, she decided to join the race. Dan’s girlfriend Melissa and I tagged along for moral and water-giving support (I failed at the latter…to be elaborated later).

Los Loverbirds, Melissa y Dan

I almost bailed out (SURPRISE) because I was so worried about schoolwork but am glad I went – I had been dying to get out of the “city.” The outskirts of the city was barren but beautiful in its own way.  We left at 7am, met up with two guys, and took a tiny taxi to the destination. The two guys sat in the passenger seat together. I wish I had gotten a picture.

I am a proud member of B&W Abusers Society

Among other things, Melissa and I helped hand little packets of water at the halfway point. Let me tell you right now that that requires skill and it should be considered a legitimate occupation. I failed to hand the packet to the runner several times (they dropped it) and I wanted to run away in shame.

The guys on the left sat on the taxi passenger seat together

I felt like a loaf seeing people run under the blazing sun but cheered the runners as un-obnoxiously as I can. I admire them all. The fastest runners finished within 40 minutes. Emily even earned a medal.

Buen trabajo, roomie!
Best pillar in the history of pillars

Everyone was very friendly. I talked to some people in broken phrases but seeing everyone have a good time made me vow to learn Spanish. It was actually close to physical pain wanting to but not being able to communicate. Power of language!

Afterwards we stopped at a small restaurant for adobo, an ubiquitous dish here. I vaguely remembered liking the adobo from the Philippines so I was excited for the Peruvian version.

I did not like it. I must stay away from pork unless it’s in bacon form.

We took a combi home, which is always an experience. They are an economic mode of transport for most people here. The medium-sized buses are usually crammed with as many people as possible. Emily and I were certain we were involuntarily squishing a baby on the bus.

You better pray you will stand next to someone who put on deodorant that day

Writing these words I realized I did not capture this day accurately. If I had all the time in the world I would not publish this post until it was perfect, until I got every nuance and meanings right, but alas.

I am glad I did not bail out. I am glad I said yes to the invitation. I am happy I had a Peruvian meal with Inca Kola in an outdoor restaurant while Latin music played in the background. I am happy I got sweaty and gross standing under the sun while attempting to hand out water to runners in a dry, rural town. I am thankful for people who were patient enough to converse with me. I am in awe of everyone who ran the race. I loved the breeze I felt while squished in a tiny taxi with illegal number of people by US standards.

I am one lucky human being.

Except that I have a class to teach tomorrow and a tricky test to take.


But I digress. Here are some additional pictures.

P.S. Thanks for everyone who leaves or sends me comments. They mean a lot.

toot toot
Cooking adobo outside in the pot. This is not the place we ate at, however
I am fat and lazy but I took pictures!

Photo Dump

I have conflicted feelings about taking pictures.

I obviously enjoy taking them but sometimes I find myself focusing my energy and attention on finding “photo-worthy” things that I may not be truly taking in the moment, even if it is just crossing the street or reading on the bench. This is most evident during special trips.

That’s why I like going on photo walks because I don’t feel as guilty about not letting myself be in my surroundings. I have a clear purpose: take pictures of things I find interesting.

Men playing cards on a street corner

Arequipa is full of life and little moments that make them (that sentence did not make much sense). It is a picturesque city. Because I knew I would be here for a while I tried to soak things in before I started taking pictures.

I always have my iPhone with me. My favorite subject is people in candid moments but that is also one of the more difficult things to capture – it usually happens and ends too fast. But when I do capture them, it makes me very happy. They all tell a story.

Just today I saw three moments I wish I could have captured. One was two security guards laughing and throwing small rocks over a high wall – they were clearly bored on the job. Second was two guys pushing a cobalt blue vintage Beetle (not sure if it broke down or ran out of gas) in the middle of a super busy main street. The third was a man on a motorbike except it was attached to a ridiculous cart filled with food and trash cans.

One of the tricks for taking pictures, I’ve learned, is to not give a shit. I still get embarrassed and uncomfortable taking out my phone to take a picture here because people just don’t do that. It makes me look like a n00b (well, I am, but you know). But you just have to let that go and take a picture of whatever the hell you want to take. It takes practice and I still haven’t mastered it.

Anyway, here are some pictures I had not yet posted.

Kids are the same in every country

I got down on one knee to get this one

Another reason why I like taking pictures is that it makes you notice the little things – shadows, signs, the way things are placed. You gain new perspective.

Checking out the morning papers
Arequipa staples – combi and vintage Beetles (bochitos)
I say it again, I can’t believe how good iPhone’s camera is

I also have an Instagram account that I love (@piddlington). It’s super easy and fun to use. I posted some of these pictures there before I uploaded them here today. If you don’t want to get the free app then you can also see it online:

Mama – I will help you set it up during our next Skype call as promised.